Thursday, September 21, 2023

Dems Outline Concerns Ahead of Legislative Session


Democratic representatives from both the House and the Senate discussed their plans and areas of focus for the upcoming legislative session at a Town Hall on Jan. 4.

Reps. Dayan Hochman-Vigil (Dist. 11) and Javier Martinez (Dist. 15) joined Sens. Katy Duhigg (Dist. 10) and Bill O'Neill (Dist. 13) along with departing representative Linda Garcia-Benavides (Dist. 17) to talk with community members at the Los Ranchos Village Hall.

The representatives discussed a laundry list of issues. Voting rights, CYFD, education, economic development, criminal justice, climate change and women's rights are all on their radar. The representatives hope to resolve their concerns at the Roundhouse.

Duhigg, the new chair of the Senate Rules Committee, spoke on the importance of voting rights and protections for election workers. "Right now, if you're a voter and someone tries to intimidate you and interfere with your electoral franchise, that's a fourth degree felony," Duhigg said. However, those protections are not extended to poll workers and county clerks.

Duhigg sponsored Senate Bill 144 in 2022 that would have granted these protections but after passing the House and Senate, the bill died. It appears that Duhigg is poised to pursue the bill again this year.

Duhigg along with Garcia-Benavides shared their concerns about the state's Children, Youth and Families Department. CYFD has recently come under fire for mistakes made in their operations. According to a Pro Publica and Searchlight New Mexico report, CYFD has been housing children in homeless shelters and other "inappropriate settings."

And during the sentencing of Zerrick Marquez, who was convicted of beating 4-year-old James Dunklee-Cruz to death in 2019, Judge Stan Whitaker had harsh words for the department.

"We hear too much of CYFD going in and seeing folks and seeing children in situations where probably kids should be taken out. And we just don’t have that happening. And as a result, we see way too many children needlessly being brutalized, abused and ultimately killed,” Whitaker said during the Dec.16 sentencing.

Crime also concerned representatives and those concerns were echoed by residents at the townhall. "The crime issue is extremely nuanced. And it's a confluence of circumstances that have led us to where we are today," Hochman-Vigil said. She explained that the issue of crime has to do with the amount of resources and staff that law enforcement has, substance abuse and the judicial system.

"It actually has a lot to do with the judicial system and some of the tools that we're utilizing to assist our judges in making decisions as to who they can either release on on their own recognizance or who they want to detain prior to trial," Hochman-Vigil said.

Majority Floor Leader Javier Martinez, who is in the running to be the House Speaker, also discussed the importance of creating what he called a "modern legislature." We have a 19th-century legislative system for a 21st-century economy and society. The fact that we've done this well is a testament to the caliber of the people who serve you," Martinez said.

Martinez has pushed for full-time staff and experts to work for the legislature as well as procedures making it easier for legislators to call for an extra session.


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